Wed | Nov 21, 2018

Editorial | No glory for PNP members of ECJ

Published:Wednesday | May 23, 2018 | 12:00 AM

 

The two People's National Party's (PNP) representatives on the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) have rescinded their support for the ECJ's assertion of an absence of political influence in the operations of the Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ) and have criticised the commission's independent members for failing to repudiate the alleged bad behaviour of governing party appointee Aundre Franklin.

But in the absence of a better narrative from Julian Robinson and Wensworth Skeffery for their delayed sense of outrage over Mr Franklin's attitude, and the danger it purportedly posed to the independence of the EOJ, we can only conclude that they either fell down on their jobs at the ECJ, or their position is driven by political expediency. It is an opportunity to get a shot in for the PNP.

Further, without more, and assuming the complaints recently made public by the former director of elections, Orrette Fisher, to be true, reasonable people are more likely to hold Mr Franklin to be a thuggish vulgarian, seeking advantage for the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). That, though, is not the same as influencing the day-to-day work of the EOJ.

Two important contextual issues are to be noted.

One is that Mr Fisher, having served for a decade as director of elections, resigned last year while still in court with the ECJ, on a point of administrative law, over the minimum length that a contract can be afforded directors of election. He says the law stipulates seven years, which he initially served. However, he subsequently served two one-year contracts before the ECJ decided to advertise the position.

The second issue is about the ECJ, a commission of Parliament, which has responsibility for the management of Jamaica's elections and matters related thereto. Four of its nine members are independents, appointed by the governor general, in his own right. Two each are nominated by the prime minister and the leader of the Opposition. The director of elections is also a member - like the CEO with a board of directors.

The ECJ is credited with rescuing and enhancing, to best-in-class status, what used to be a dysfunctional election system, accomplished in no small measure because of the weighted influence of the independent members. But with the competing interests of the political parties, we can imagine its meetings are often robust and, at times, angry.

 

HOSTILE COMMISSIONER

 

Messrs Robinson and Skeffery are relatively recent members of the ECJ, who say they saw letters by Mr Fisher, about Mr Franklin's purportedly inflammatory statements, only days after they endorsed the commission's declaration about the absence of political interference in the ECJ's work. However, in their time as members, they had, indeed, witnessed "behaviour from a commissioner that we view as disrespectful, abusive and hostile to the former director, Mr Fisher, as well as to other members of the ECJ, including independent members".

They added: "On these occasions, where we have seen this behaviour, we have both challenged the commissioner in question and sought the intervention of the chairman and other independent members to restore decorum."

Given that they had first-hand knowledge of the attitude of a commissioner, presumably Mr Franklin, it begs the question as to why they endorsed the ECJ statement, unless they drew a distinction between uncouth behaviour at the level of the ECJ, and direct interference, or influence, in the management of the EOJ.

Indeed, we would hardly expect a CEO, in this case, Mr Fisher, to be intimidated by a rude board member. Nonetheless, if Mr Franklin, or any other member, undermines the independence of the ECJ and its agencies, and the commission's leadership did nothing about it, Messrs Robinson and Skeffery owed an obligation of stewardship to alert the Jamaican people to the dangers - and not at a politically opportune moment. It is not, however, too late to have a serious discussion of these issues.